I heard about this place from a friend at work who said it was one of the most memorable things he’d done (This was a guy twice my age). I took his word for it but it wasn’t hard to sell me. I like war history and diving. Plus I’d never been on a live aboard.
The coral atoll surrounding the Chuuk Islands creates a natural defense with only a few areas of entry and exit (this makes for ideal diving conditions with very little current). For this reason, plus it’s location, the Japanese Navy used it as a shipping hub for war materials during world war 2. You’ll see plenty of cars, trucks, tanks, bullets, bombs, beer, weapons, and medicine containers. The ships were sunk during Operation Hailstone in February of 1944 when the US Navy, on their way to Japan, pulled a drive by on the Japanese Naval Base in the Chuuk Islands. They had just finished a costly Battle on the Tarawa atoll and weren’t going to risk mens lives when a bombing could destroy their war making capacity and leave the survivors stranded until VJ day. In just a few days of bombing the US sank 40+ ships and thousands of tons of war supplies.
The ships lay on the ocean floor in the same position as when they sank 70+ years ago. It’s WW2 history frozen in time.
Getting there and how to dive the area
If you’re flying in from the USA, pretty much everyone takes the same UA flight from San Francisco – Guam – Chuuk. If you’re coming from anywhere else, just ask Odyssey what flight to take, they’ve been doing this for awhile.
There are 2 ways to dive the wrecks.
- From the land based Blue Lagoon Resort
- On Liveaboards. The 2 main liveaboards are Odyssey and the SS Thorfinn.
We chose the Odyssey for several reasons, but the main reason was that on the Odyssey, you dive straight from the boat that you live on. On the Thorfinn you take a dhingy out to the dive sites from the liveaboard, you might as well be land based in my opinion.
Odyssey runs a smooth operation. They meet you at the airport when you arrive at night and bring you straight to the boat to sleep. The next morning the Odyssey moves to a wreck and parks at the mooring. While parked at the dive site you can dive that wreck as many times as you would like (You are responsible for monitoring your own deco, and be advised there are no deco chambers on the island). If you are alone they have Local Divemasters on the boat who will take you out. They are great guides, they know the dive sites very well, and can take you through the engine rooms if you’re into tight spaces with no visible exits.
Here’s the typical schedule on the Odyssey:
Breakfast around 0700. Shortly after Breakfast they give the dive brief for the wreck which includes some history on the ship. They want everyone to attend the dive briefings. After the brief you are free to dive as much as you want (usually 2 dives) until 1200 or 1300 where they will break for lunch and move the boat to the next dive site.
At the new dive site they will give another brief and you can once again dive as much as you want at that site until the following morning at 0700 where they will move to another dive site. Most people dive 2 morning dives, 2 in the afternoon, and then start drinking free booze from the bar. 1 guy in our group did a night dive every night for a total of 5 dives per day. The boat usually visits 2 wrecks per day, but some days they do 3.
You don’t need to be an experienced diver to enjoy this trip. The top of the shipwrecks are usually around 10-20 meters deep, but you can easily reach 30+ meters diving inside and around the wrecks. The boat uses the perfect ratio of Nitrox (I think it was 24%) to allow you to go deep and have less surface interval. The boat operates by the “big boy” rules. You can dive as deep and do what you want, but you suffer the consequences for your actions. No one likes having their hand held on a diving trip and Odyssey respects that.
The trip is expensive, but definitely worth it. It was my one “splurge” dive trip. Here’s some pictures to seal the deal
Odyssey is the only liveaboard that does a shark feeding dive. T’was one of the highlights of the trip…
If you want to do something a little crazy ask the divemasters to take you through one of the engine rooms on a ship. They’re a tight squeeze and if anything goes wrong you’re a few minutes from the surface, but cool to see at least once. We did it a few times but after seeing one engine room you’ve pretty much seen them all.
The final day they do an optional dive of the San Francisco, a very deep dive. It’s open to everyone of all certifications.
The boat has a safety stop bar with a Nitrox hose to the surface, AND they have an elevator. Super fancy
The dining facility/bar
The final day they drop you off on the island to hang out before you fly out at midnight. There is a $10 tour on the island everyone usually jumps on to check out the high school (best in Micronesia), some Japanese fortifications, and a lighthouse.
This was the best dive trip I’ve ever been on, but all it did was open up new places I want to visit. Some of the people on the boat were doing the full tour, visiting Palau, Guam, and the Bikini Atoll. We’ll be back.